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BHR ARG, 11th MEU Leave 7th Fleet to End Deployment

PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- Sailors and Marines of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and embarked 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) departed U.S. 7th Fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR) April 1 for the final leg of a seven-month deployment.

More than 4,300 members of the San Diego-based ARG/MEU team set sail last September in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation initiatives in the 5th and 7th Fleet AORs.

While transiting 7th Fleet in March, ARG ships – USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), USS Cleveland (LPD 7), and USS Rushmore (LSD 47) – made scheduled port calls to Phuket, Thailand; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Fukuoka, Japan.

"Our port visits in 7th Fleet not only fostered goodwill and cultivated positive exchanges, but also produced dynamic experiences that our Sailors and Marines will reflect on for years to come," said Capt. Tim Wilson, commander of the Bonhomme Richard ARG.

More than 150 service members from Rushmore and Cleveland completed improvement projects at two schools, an orphanage and a local hospital while visiting Phuket, Thailand. During Bonhomme Richard's visit to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, more than 70 Sailors and Marines spent time interacting with local youngsters at a day care center for disabled children.

"The Marines and Sailors of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit truly enjoyed their time in 7th Fleet and once again demonstrated the utility of well-trained forces embarked aboard multipurpose ships," said Col. Gregg Olson, commander of the 11th MEU.

During a goodwill visit to Fukuoka, Japan, March 16 - 21, more than 30 service members stationed aboard Rushmore visited young patients at Fukuoka Children's Hospital. Japanese patients were giddy with excitement when two Sailors and a Marine led a lively version of the hokey-pokey, strumming acoustic guitars and dancing in the hospital's entertainment room.

"Marines and Sailors had opportunity to contribute their labor to those in need during community service projects. They upheld the highest traditions of the naval services and spent time ashore as good ambassadors of the United States," said Olson.

Over the course of deployment, ARG/MEU personnel volunteered in over 20 community service projects during port visits to Guam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Timor-Leste, Japan and in the Persian Gulf.

In addition, Sailors and Marines provided medical and dental care to more than 2,000 patients in Indonesia and Timor-Leste, working along side local healthcare officials during Marine Exercise 2009 in October.

"I could not be prouder of our Sailors and Marines. Their enthusiasm and desire to make a real difference speaks to the character of our team," said Wilson. "Every one of our positive interactions promoted trust and cooperation, which complemented stability and security efforts with each nation we visited. The ARG/MEU team truly was a goodwill ambassador for the United States."

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